Thursday, June 20, 2013

How Sweet It Is!

The picket fence is up around the new herb garden.  Just the right height to deter dogs!

This week's big event was my first real honey extraction.  Last fall I harvested 3 "frames" of honey using a "crush and strain" method  Fall honey    and this past week I harvested 6 frames and used my new 2-frame extractor.  More on that soon.

Tonight Grover graduates from basic obedience.  He has done very well and I am thrilled.  At one time I thought I would never be able to get him to sit and pose with Rowdy for photos.  Check out these photos of the 2 of them on a "Down Stay" in the yard

I ask them to "lay down" (treat). 
"Stay" traffic cop halt hand signal, then I begin to walk in ever widening circles around them.  Only their heads move to watch me.

Now I am at the farthest point.  Sometimes I just stand and time them up to about 15 seconds.  They are watching intently now and waiting for the release signal, which is a calm "OK".  As soon as I say it, they are up and running over for their treat.  I must say this is awesome!  Rowdy already knew this stuff, but a refresher is always a good idea.  I do not think they will do a good Downstay while the UPS truck is in the driveway yet, though!

On to honey!  On Friday, which was the first nice sunny day we had in a while, my friend Tari's husband, Dave, came over and helped me with my hive.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera with us to the hive, so no photos of that, though it was impressive.  We took every one of the 6 boxes that comprise the hive off and moved them around to get the queen into the very bottom box.  I only got stung once, through my jeans, but Dave was wearing shorts and he was the one lifting the boxes, so he got stung about 11 times I think.  Anyway, we took 6 full capped frames of honey from the top 2 boxes and replaced them with empty frames.  The plan is for the bees to fill those frames now so that next time I go in I can harvest another 6 frames or so.  There are 9 frames in each box, or "super", that the bees are storing honey in.  When the nectar the bees collect is finished becoming honey the bees cap the cells with wax.  This is what we want to harvest.

 In order to harvest the honey, the wax caps must be removed.  Here is a frame of capped honey from which I have removed a small portion of cappings.  They can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the photo.

 I am doing this outside because the table was the right height and it is a sticky messy process.  Each frame has honey on both sides, with a divider down the middle so both sides must be uncapped.

My extractor is a stainless steel barrel-type can with 2 baskets inside it.  An uncapped frame is placed in each basket, the lid is put on the extractor and there is a crank on the side which is turned rapidly to spin the basket.  This creates centrifugal force which flings the honey from the cells on the frames.

uncapped frame being placed in basket

I then have to turn the frames around and repeat the process to extract the honey from the other side of the frames. 

2 frames in basket

As the frames are spun, the honey collects in the bottom of the extractor.  There are bits of wax that come off with the honey, so the next step is to filter.  There is a gate in the bottom of the extractor and I open it and let the honey pour through a filter into a clean bucket.

 This bucket has a similar gate in it which allows me to then put the filtered honey into jars, or it can be stored in the bucket with the lid on it until I am ready to put it in jars.

I extracted a little over 2 gallons of honey from those 6 frames!

Once the frames are empty, they are still a sticky mess and of course I want to re-use them, so I put them outside away from the house and within a very short period of time the bees have found them and are removing every drop of honey from them and taking them back to their hive and storing it away.

   They get those frames amazingly clean!

Our garden is doing well.  We have had a lot of rain which makes the garden and the weeds grow.  We have been enjoying salads with fresh lettuce almost daily and are still getting the occasional asparagus stalk.  There are little green  tomatoes on some of the tomato plants and I will likely be harvesting beets in a couple weeks, along with garlic.

I probably won't be blogging next week as I leave on Monday to go to Grand Rapids and Glen Arbor Michigan to spend some time with my cousin, Tracey.  Of course I will see my aunt and  my other cousin, Matt, but Tracey is the closest I have to a sister and we don't' get to spend much time together, so I decided to just make plans to go visit her.  It should be a great time.  We will spend a couple days at her family's condo overlooking Lake Michigan and just having fun.

On the fiber front, I have done some spinning toward the blanket I want to weave and even found a pattern that I will use, with some modifications.  I also finished my socks I started in January, which I will be very glad to have when fall rolls around.

I also plied up some hand-dyed alpaca that was taking up room on a bobbin I wanted to clean off.  I got about 130 yards.  It was a very thin roving that I was not happy with when I got it back from the processor and it kind of felted when I dyed it, so spinning it has been rather tedious (and I did not dye any more of said roving).  I still have some of it to spin.  Maybe some day.  But this did not turn out badly.  The partial felting of the roving during dyeing made for rather inconsistant spinning, so it definitely looks handspun!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

All's Quiet.....For Now

The boys wait patiently for me to come out of the alpaca field in the morning.

Things are somewhat quiet for now.  Just the normal summer chores of keeping vegetation at bay such as mowing and whacking down weeds, weeding the gardens and enjoying being outside.  There is a good bit of noise from the well they are "fracking" a couple  miles away and they have started to set up what I can only assume is a big drill on the pad up above our hayfield.  It may be hard to see in the photo unless you click and enlarge it, but the drill is about in the center of the frame.  It just went up Monday and I have not been down that way at night to see if it is lit up yet or not.  It will be.  So the drilling is coming closer.  The wells on this pad will not affect us (except for the noise), but the next pad they plan to drill on will eventually go under part of our property and we will see some financial benefits from that, but not for a while.  

The raccoon that had terrorized my chickens has obviously been taken care of and all the chickens, including the rooster are now returning to the coop at night like they are supposed to.  I still have that worry each morning now when I go to let them out that I will find dead chickens again.  But so far, my worry is for naught.  

 I told Sam I would like to put in an herb garden close to the house and put a little picket fence around it to keep dogs from watering it.  I was surprised that he was enthusiastic about the idea and should be making the fence for me today.  It will only be a couple feet high so that it can be stepped over, eliminating the need for a gate.  Its purpose, other than to look nice, is really only to keep the dogs away.  Yes they could easily jump it, but I don't think they will do that just to pee!  

This weekend I need to get into the bee hives again.  I think I should be able to harvest some honey.  Sure hope so anyway.  I also need to use the weed-whacker up near the orchard hive and I think I will need to smoke the hive before I can get too close with a noisy machine.  I will wear my bee jacket for sure.  I hope to have honey harvest news next week.

I have been working on getting a few of my female alpacas bred for crias next spring.  I have been using our white male, White Lightning with 3 white females and the rose grey male, Opus One (Opi) with my true black female and 2 fawn females.  5 have been bred.  One fawn female has just been adamant that she is not going to be receptive, so I'm giving her another week to think about it. 4 of the 5 who were bred were non-receptive 6 days later and only 1 maiden (first timer) female needed to be re-bred this week.  Sunday I will re-test everyone and hope for lots of spit-offs from the females.  


I have been getting some fibery stuff done.  I knitted a beanie for the nephew of my older son's girlfriend.  I guess she is really kind of my daughter-in-law since she and Ian have been living together for about 4 years.  Anyway, her 15 year old nephew is going through chemo for lymphoma and I thought I would knit him a hat. He lives in Portland OR but is a Patriots fan, so I bought some nice soft washable Merino wool yarn and found a chart for some stars and knitted a simple beanie.  I need to wash it and get in the mail

I hope he likes it.  If not, someone will.  

I also finished the summer top I was knitting with a hemp/cotton blend yarn. I am happy with it.

 And I got my small loom warped for a sampler I am weaving to learn a double-weaving technique which will allow me to weave a 5+ foot wide blanket on a < 4 foot wide loom.  Once I spin up all the 3000 yards of alpaca yarn required to weave such a blanket.  If I put it in writing I will do it, right?  Stay tuned for updates!

Speaking of updates, I inventoried my hand-dyed yarns and updated my web site, so if you want to buy any lovely hand-dyed 100% Ohio alpaca yarn, visit my site here:
Yarn from Straightfork 


 Yesterday was younger son Sam's birthday.  Hard to believe he is 26!  He is the one who lives at a lodge just outside Yosemite National Park.  He is he sous chef there.  I highly recommend Evergreen Lodge   if you are ever thinking of going to Yosemite, which is an incredible place.  Sam flew to Portland to visit Ian and Michelle for his birthday and I think he is enjoying a mimosa with his morning coffee in this photo.  

That's about it for this week.  Here's a parting shot of the dogs on a typical summer evening walk.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hay, Predator Problems, Big Cat Sighting?

Sam says Grover makes a pretty good "Second Banana" 
It's June!  I guess that makes it officially summer.  In my book anyway.   As I was writing last week's post, Sam was home mowing hay.  The plan was to bale it on Saturday and put it in the barn, but the weather forecast changed and that along with equipment issues (always when you are using old equipment) required a change in plans.  So I went to the office on Friday and Sam repaired equipment and raked and baled hay and at dark, we were returning to the barn with our second load of hay from the top field.  We had had to put the first load up in the loft so that we could pick up the rest.  Fortunately, we can just put the tractor and trailer still loaded with hay into the poly-shelter, which is what we did so that we did not have to unload the second 120 bales or so that night.  It did sprinkle a little Friday night, but we did not get the storms and rain as forecast.

Saturday morning it was time to put the rest of the hay up into the loft.  As you can see, Grover was quite the helper.  He loves to be with us whatever we are doing, whereas once normal morning chores are finished, Rowdy prefers to go in the house and sleep until his next regularly scheduled activity, which is usually our daily hike.

One of the pieces of equipment that the neighbors bought and that we all share is a hay elevator.  We used to park the trailer right up next to the barn and toss each bale into the loft, which got harder and harder to do as the hay level on the trailer went down.  Now, I can load the bales onto the elevator and they ride on up and Sam collects and stacks.

 We did not get an exact count, but have somewhere between 250 and 300 bales.  This first cutting is not what the alpacas prefer to eat and we no longer have a horse, so we will sell this hay.

On Sunday morning, I went out to let the chickens out of the coop only to find that 2 chickens were dead and one of those was about half eaten.  The chickens go in to their coop every night at dusk and sit on their roosts and I shut them in to keep them safe from predators.  There is a little chicken door on the coop that is open all day for the chickens to come and go and there is a human sized door on the other end of the coop that allows me to get in and clean and feed and put water in in the winter.  At first, I was unable to determine where the killer, who we assumed was a raccoon, had gotten in.  But on closer look, he had obviously perched on the peak of the roof and peeled back the top of the human door and loosened it enough so that he could get in and back out which was not evident at first to me.

So the war began.  Once a raccoon finds a captive source of food he will just keep returning.  We knew we had to get rid of this coon.  I also wondered if my chickens would return to the coop on Sunday evening, or if they were smart enough to realize that their safe home had basically been a death trap as they had been unable to flee once the killer was inside.  It had to be traumatic.  A true horror movie.  The answer is, yes, they were very reluctant to go back in.  Sam and I collected chickens off the footbridge at 10 pm and put them into the coop.  The big brave rooster has been hiding in the hayloft at night.  The last 2 nights I have gone out and caught him after dark and carried him to the coop.  Last night was the first night all the hens went in on their own.

Sunday night, I set our live trap, which is rather old and rickety.  At 1 am Sam went out with is rifle and got off a shot at the raccoon, who had already tripped the trap and eaten the bait without getting caught.  This also continued Monday and Tuesday night, with me trying to place the trap in such a way the the coon would have to go into the trap to get the bait.  Sam did not see the coon either night.  He would go out at 11 pm and all would be as we left it and 2 hours later, the trap would be tripped, but no coon. Last night, Sam used stakes to stake down the trap and worked on the plate that actually sets it off and got it so that it would not trip as easily.  

At around 10:30 I was reading upstairs and had the windows open.  A storm was coming in from the west with some wind and far off lightning.  I heard an alpaca alarm call from the pasture closest to the house, where we had also had issues with a raccoon or possum getting into our feed bin. I went down and told Sam and he immediately got his gun and headed outside thinking that maybe the critters were on the move earlier than usual due to the weather.  Long story short, he shot one raccoon over where the feed had been raided and a possum over near the chicken coop and a raccoon that was in the trap we had been setting every night for 4 nights!  Let's hope this alleviates the problem.  My chickens are silly, defenseless birds and they deserve to feel safe in their own coop.

Monday, I spent a bit of time on the tractor doing what I call "weed control".  This basically means I was mowing the alpaca pastures to keep the weeds they won't eat from going to seed and reproducing.  It also needs to be done to cut the grass shorter as the alpacas prefer the tender new growth of the grass and will not eat it once it gets tall and stemmy.  Picky.  As I mowed the very back pasture, my neighbor, who shares the fenceline, waved me over and told me she and husband had been riding down the road the previous evening around dusk to go look at the well/pipeline sites.   Shortly past our alpaca field, she said, a very large reddish brown cat with a long tail ran across the road in front of them.  This was no bobcat, she said.  Definitely not.  There have been rumors for years about a "panther" down here in our hollow and the more people I talk to, the more stories I hear of sightings.  I just hope it stays away from the alpacas!  A mountain lion would make a predatory raccoon seem like, well a raccoon, I guess.

 Fibery stuff:  Last week I mentioned my turkish drop spindle.  Well here it is.  After I started spinning on it I watched some youtube videos and realized I had put it together wrong.  The curved arms should curve downward, not upward.  Honestly, I don't think it matters because it spins just fine as I have it.  Once I remove this ball of yarn, I will do it the correct way.  When I fill up the spindle, I can pull the center rod out and each arm of the spindle and I will have a nifty little center-pull ball of yarn!

I finished up the top I was working on and am pleased.  I need to photograph the finished project.

I also finished a sock I had started in January and even started on the second sock.  This is a commercial washable wool sock yarn.

I am in the process of warping my small loom at home for a sampler to practice for the blanket I plan to weave once I get all the yarn spun up.  More on that in another post.  This is long enough!